Woman Says R. Kelly Had Her ‘Dress Like a Girl Scout’

The singer’s lawyers sought to cast the witness, who said Mr. Kelly began abusing her when she was 16, as a disgruntled and jealous fan.

R. Kelly at a 2019 court appearance in Illinois. The singer’s trial on racketeering and other charges began Wednesday in Brooklyn.
Credit…Joshua Lott/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Jerhonda Pace was only 16, but R. Kelly, the superstar singer who was having sex with her, wanted her to dress even younger, Ms. Pace told jurors on Thursday.

“He wanted me to put my hair up in pigtails and dress like a girl scout,” said Ms. Pace, 28, the first of Mr. Kelly’s accusers to testify at the R&B artist’s criminal trial. She said that Mr. Kelly often requested the outfit before filming their sexual interactions with a camera on a tripod.

Her testimony in Federal District Court in Brooklyn this week marked the first time that one of Mr. Kelly’s alleged victims has ever taken the stand in a criminal case during the decades of allegations against him.

Over the course of the trial that began on Wednesday and is set to last for four weeks, several accusers are expected to give firsthand testimony about sexual, physical and psychological abuse inflicted by Mr. Kelly — and about the roles that members of his inner circle played in maintaining that system of torment, all while the R&B singer was at the pinnacle of his career.

Ms. Pace testified that Mr. Kelly — whose reactions appeared muted in court, where he wore a blue suit and a mask — had sex with her over six months beginning in 2009, shortly after she turned 16. She testified that she had initially told Mr. Kelly that she was 19, but after he performed a sex act on her, she revealed her true age and told him that she was a virgin.

That did not lessen Mr. Kelly’s interest in her, she said. He engaged in sexual acts and intercourse with her during several visits to his home in a Chicago-area suburb, she said, where she was forced to operate under severe restrictions and eventually faced violent abuse.

Mr. Kelly’s legal team has moved to cast Ms. Pace as a jealous “superfan” of the singer who concocted lies as he lost interest in her. “You were in fact stalking him, weren’t you?” Deveraux Cannick, one of the singer’s four lawyers, said during his cross-examination on Thursday. (Ms. Pace replied that she was not.)

The defense’s strategy has focused so far on challenging both the nature of the unusual racketeering charges against Mr. Kelly, and arguing that the four women who are expected to testify against him have fabricated or embellished their accounts of his abusive behavior.

Mr. Cannick suggested that fame and money had motivated Ms. Pace to lie, questioning her about past interviews with the news media, and about how much money she received from a 2018 book deal that detailed the abuse she testified about.

During her testimony, Ms. Pace could not recall the date of one of the most graphic instances of abuse, or one of her own phone numbers, but she did recall Mr. Kelly’s. Mr. Cannick implied that her inability to recall some details showed she had been given the information that she did recall by prosecutors to build their case.

Ms. Pace also testified on Wednesday that she was forced to abide by restrictions — which she came to know as “Rob’s rules” — when at the singer’s home: She said she was required to receive his permission to use the bathroom and was forced to wear baggy clothing. Mr. Cannick presented a photo of her on a day that she said Mr. Kelly was home where she did not appear to be wearing oversize clothing.

Still, some of the defense team’s lines have not landed.

In questioning Ms. Pace, Mr. Cannick pointed out that she had testified that she was 14 years old in April 2008, when she attended hearings for Mr. Kelly’s first trial; but 16 in May 2009.

“You advanced two years in a year and one month?” Mr. Cannick asked, suggesting she had lied. Ms. Pace explained that her birthday was in April.

The government is aiming to convince jurors that Mr. Kelly directed a decades-long criminal scheme, recruiting fans for sex. Prosecutors are focusing on his interactions with six women and girls, including Ms. Pace and the R&B singer Aaliyah, whom he married when she was just 15 and who died in a 2001 plane crash.

The seven men and five women of the jury will hear testimony from several former managers and associates of Mr. Kelly in addition to other accusers, prosecutors said in their opening statement. Other details jurors will consider include text messages and audio recordings exchanged between Mr. Kelly and his accusers, and a host of evidence recovered from his apartment and storage facility.

Ms. Pace has long been at the forefront of the allegations against the artist. She was one of the first women to go public with her accusations, sharing her accounts in a 2017 BuzzFeed article that ushered in a fresh round of public outrage against Mr. Kelly just months before the height of the Me Too movement.

Since then, a damning Lifetime documentary, a campaign to boycott the artist’s music and a lengthy round of criminal investigations have thrown Mr. Kelly’s other relationships under intense scrutiny — ultimately leading to his charges in Brooklyn.

After the first half of her accounts on Wednesday, Ms. Pace posted a reflection on Instagram.

“We are one step closer to justice,” she wrote. “Testifying against my abuser was NOT easy, but it was a huge relief.”

Ms. Pace, who is now married and more than 38 weeks pregnant, said she first encountered Mr. Kelly when she was 14 and a member of his online fan club. She sought his autograph during his 2008 criminal trial in Chicago, when he was acquitted of child pornography charges. Ms. Pace said that she skipped school over the course of the trial to catch glimpses of him and had a brief conversation with the singer at one point.

A year later, she was reconnected with Mr. Kelly through an employee and invited to a party.

But she said over her two-day testimony that she soon saw another side to Mr. Kelly.

On one occasion, she testified, the two had a trivial disagreement about basketball. Mr. Kelly supported his hometown Chicago Bulls; she disagreed, and said she enjoyed watching the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“He responded by slapping me,” she said, “and told me I was disrespecting him.”

The breaking point came around the start of 2010, she said.

After she failed to acknowledge him when he entered a room — one of the rules she was told to follow — Ms. Pace testified that Mr. Kelly slapped and choked her until she passed out. During the assault, she said, Mr. Kelly spit in her face, and minutes later, forced her to perform a sex act on him.

That, she said, was the last time that she visited him.

During their final interaction, Ms. Pace said, she wiped off Mr. Kelly’s semen with a blue Aéropostale shirt that she turned over to lawyers soon after ending things with him. Prosecutors introduced that shirt into evidence Wednesday, and it is expected to play a key role in jurors’ understanding of her account.

Ms. Pace did not pursue criminal charges after her encounters with Mr. Kelly, but she filed a civil suit that was settled in February 2010.

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